And while the overdose death rate for illicitly-obtained opioids like fentanyl - the drug involved in the death of musician Prince - is skyrocketing (it jumped 73% from 2014 to 2015, according to last year's version of this CDC report), the overdose death rate from many other legal prescription opioids is rising far more slowly (4% over the same period, that report found).
The age-adjusted rate of drug overdose deaths in the United States in 2015 (16.3 per 100,000) was more than 2.5 times the rate in 1999 (6.1). While overdose death rates increased for all age groups, the greatest increase was in adults aged 55-64. Many people became addicted to opioids from using prescription painkillers, but as access to those drugs was tightened in response, they moved on to heroin and synthetic opioids to feed their addiction.
"You are 40 times more likely to use heroin if you started with opioid painkillers", Hamburg said.
Mr. Hamburg also cited the falling price of heroin, which can cost as little as one-tenth the cost of a prescription opioid, as a driving factor in the rates of heroin use in America.
Heroin caused more overdoses than any other drug, according to USA Today.
Over the same period, the percentage of overdose deaths blamed on cocaine rose to 13 percent in 2015 from 11% in 2010, according to the study.
That number is higher than the rate of death for suicides in the United States, 13.4 deaths per 100,000, or the rate of death from vehicle accidents, 11.1 deaths per 100,000 residents.
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An alarming number of deaths due to drug overdoses is being highlighted by a recent federal study.
The CDC researchers could not determine from their data the reason for the rise in drug overdose deaths. Heroin's increase was met with decreases in drug deaths including oxycodone and methadone.
While the number of heroin-related deaths quadrupled from 2010 to 2015, the percentage share of all overdose deaths that were related to heroin tripled, from 8 percent to 25 percent.
Drug overdose deaths have almost tripled in the United States since 1999, with whites and middle-aged Americans bearing much of the brunt, a new government report shows.
Slovis said some illicit synthetic opioids can be 50 to 100 times more potent than heroin.
The report shows overdose deaths related to opioids are increasing at an "incredible rate", said Dr. Caleb Alexander, a co-director for the Johns Hopkins Center for Drug Safety and Effectiveness.